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Two of San Diego's biggest school districts to keep mask mandate in place

San Diego Unified and Sweetwater Union High School districts plan to keep their mandates in place as long as COVID levels remain high.

SAN DIEGO — In under two weeks time, California schools will no longer require students to mask up while they are inside, following Gov. Gavin Newsom's announcement on Monday.

While face coverings will no longer be mandatory as of March 12, they will still be strongly recommended.

However, individual districts can still opt to keep them mandatory, which is what San Diego Unified School District and Sweetwater Union High School District in South Bay announced that they intend to do for the time being. 

"We are seeing really encouraging trends," said State Health & Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, citing California's overall COVID case rate and hospitalizations continue to decline. "It is the right moment to transition from that requirement to a strong recommendation."

It's a move that the Rancho Santa Fe School District has already made in defiance of the state's order, citing the impact some parents say mask-wearing has had on their kid, including delayed speech development and emotional distress. 

Advocates of 'masking choice' are questioning whether districts will continue to strictly enforce indoor mask requirements in the days leading up March 12th. 

"In many districts, the enforcement protocols are still removing kids from the classroom, which is counter-intuitive to what the state is saying that all students deserve  a quality in-person instruction, except for those who are removed from the classroom under enforcement policies," said Lakeside Union School District board member Andrew Hayes. 

However, not all local districts plan on following the state's guidance, which also gives local control to schools to impose tighter restrictions.

San Diego County's two largest districts, San Diego Unified and Sweetwater Union, with schools in Chula vista and Bonita, both intend to maintain a mandatory indoor mask policy as long as COVID case numbers remain high in San Diego County, according to federal guidelines.

A spokesperson from Sweetwater Unified said, "Two weeks from today's announcement, we will reassess where the mask mandate stands, in examination of the community spread at that time."

As for San Diego Unified, its leaders also plan to consult with health experts from UC San Diego to determine its masking policy once San Diego's COVID levels come down. It plans to share its off-ramp strategy with the public some time before March 11.

Statement to families from San Diego Unified School District: 

Today, Governor Gavin Newsom announced masks will no longer be required – but will be strongly recommended – in schools after March 11. The Governor further noted districts may continue to exercise local control by continuing to require masks when local conditions warrant precaution.

San Diego County remains in the High COVID-19 Community Level, as defined by the latest CDC tool. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) continues to recommend indoor masking for schools in areas where the COVID-19 community level is high. Therefore, San Diego Unified will exercise its local control to maintain the indoor mask mandate at this time.

Following the release of the CDC guidelines, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said, “Moving forward, districts should continue to work with local health experts, parents, and educators to identify what works best for their communities and consider the appropriate mitigation strategies needed to keep students and staff safe.”

The District will conduct an assessment, including the recommendations of public health agencies and UC San Diego experts, to decide the metrics and thresholds that will be used to determine indoor masking after San Diego County exits the High COVID-19 Community Level. The District will announce this data-driven and science-based ‘off-ramp’ strategy before March 11.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our District has looked to the guidance of federal, state, and local health agencies, as well as to the advice of trusted medical professionals in making science-based decisions for the policies we put in place to keep our students, our staff, and their families safe.

A recent Harvard study found it is “too soon to lift mask mandates for most elementary schools” advising that, “before lifting mask mandates in elementary schools in the U.S., local COVID-19 case rates should be far below current rates to avoid the risk of increased transmission among students, staff, and families.” Although the study specifically referenced elementary schools, secondary schools face the same issues regarding low vaccination rates and high case rates in the surrounding communities.

It is important to note that the public health situation is fluid, and San Diego Unified’s goal is to remain flexible. If the situation changes, the District policy on use of masks may change as well.

We also want to remind families and staff that our District has a multi-pronged approach for keeping our schools safe, and other mitigation strategies remain in place - including enhanced ventilation and a robust testing program.

Finally, we continue to urge everyone to follow the California SMARTER strategy that emphasizes vaccination as the best way to defeat the virus. All staff are fully vaccinated or accommodated, and all students age 5 and older are encouraged to get vaccinated.

At the most recent Board of Education meeting, the district again committed to requiring vaccinations for all students ages 16 and older at the start of the next semester.

For more on how to get vaccinated and keep you and your family safe, please visit our COVID-19 Information page. There, you will also be able to stay up to date on policy changes. Visit the online dashboard to monitor weekly testing and positive case rates in our schools.

Statement from Sweetwater Union High School District:

Today Governor Newsom made an announcement related to the timeline and details for ending the indoor mask requirement for school settings on March 11, 2022.  As we have since the beginning of this pandemic, we continue to make efforts to keep our students, staff, and community safe. Given that the latest data indicates a high rate of community COVID-19 transmission in the South Bay, the Sweetwater District will continue to follow guidance from the CDC and CDPH with requiring masks for all students and unvaccinated staff in indoor settings. Two weeks from today’s announcement, we will reassess where the mask mandate stands, in examination of the community spread at that time. We reiterate that the safety of our school communities must be the guiding factor for any decisions affecting our students and staff and continue to encourage COVID-19 testing, masking, and vaccinations.   

Statement from Poway Unified School District: 

Today, Governor Newsom announced his plan to lift indoor mask mandates at California schools due to declining case rates and hospitalizations. This updated masking guidance will take effect after 11:59 pm on Friday, March 11, 2022. This means, beginning Monday, March 14, 2022, all students and staff members in K-12 settings will no longer be required to wear a mask indoors, although it is still strongly recommended. Any student or staff member who chooses to continue wearing a mask may do so.

Please note, masking is still required indoors at schools through Friday, March 11. As we have previously mentioned, school districts that intentionally violate Executive Orders, State Public Health Officer Orders, CDPH mandates, and/or local health officer orders are subject to civil liability, loss of insurance coverage, fines or penalties, and possible school closures. Please speak to your children about the importance of continuing to wear masks indoors until Monday, March 14, so as not to disrupt their learning process. Our hardworking teachers, staff, and administrators need your continued support to keep the focus on teaching and learning in our schools. 

We greatly appreciate your patience and cooperation throughout the pandemic as we continue to provide our students with full in-person learning.

Statement from San Marcos Unified School District: 

This morning Governor Newsom announced that with declining case rates and hospitalizations across the west, California, Oregon and Washington are moving together to update their masking guidance. After 11:59 p.m. on March 11, California, Oregon and Washington will adopt new indoor mask policies and move from mask requirements to mask recommendations in schools. This means, beginning March 12th masking in school settings will be moved from required to strongly recommended, regardless of vaccination status. Current masking guidelines are still in place through Friday, March 11, 2022.

As we move into this new phase of the pandemic, we will remain focused on continuing the mitigation strategies we are all familiar with: monitoring symptoms, testing, high-quality ventilation systems, etc. With this, students and staff should continue to remain home when sick and should take a COVID-19 test if exhibiting symptoms and/or if they have a known exposure to COVID-19.

SMUSD will continue to follow the CDPH guidance, and beginning March 12th masking for individuals in school settings will be optional. We ask for your help to please speak with your students about the importance of continuing to wear masks indoors until this time so as not to disrupt their learning process. Our hardworking teachers, staff, and administrators need your continued support to keep the focus on teaching and learning in our schools.

Thank you for the flexibility you’ve demonstrated over the past two years in supporting our students and school community.

WATCH RELATED: California to drop mask mandate in schools beginning on March 12 (Feb. 2022).